Google, well known for revolutionizing or greatly improving a number of areas of software technology and communications technology, is gradually committing further and further into more expansive projects. One of these has been alternative energy: Google has invested in a number of small companies for products like thin-film photovoltaic energy, concentrated solar heating, and now wind turbine technology.
In a recent interview, Google's green energy officer Bill Weihl was interviewed by the New York Times. Typical of this exchange:
Question. Google is obviously best-known as an Internet company. Why is Google involved with alternative energy in the first place?
Answer. I'd say there are two reasons. One is that we use a moderate amount of energy ourselves: we have a lot of servers, and we have 22,000 employees around the world with office buildings that consume a lot of energy. So we use energy and we care about the cost of that, we care about the environmental impact of it, and we care about the reliability of it. The other reason is that, starting with the founders and filtering down to many of our employees, people care about environmental issues.
Question. Google's stated aim with regard to energy is to make renewable energy cheaper than coal. How did you arrive at this particular goal?
Answer. We've learned that a small team of smart people with basic technical expertise and the freedom to really innovate can do something quite remarkable, and we wanted to see if that really could be true for alternative energies. One of the keys there is the freedom to go after a really aggressive goal, and so we set a goal of making renewable energy cheaper than coal – it's a very simple, kind of audacious and crazy goal.
Google has made the statement that a for-profit company can sometimes take actions that the best meaning and well-run non-profit can not do. This includes investing in other companies with returns on funding as profits grow in the target companies.
This is really an example of business being smart. As usual, Google seems to be exceeding even the other large companies that have been taking modest green steps, such as Wal-Mart. Google has made it clear that they feel responsible as a company and as people for a better world in the future at the same time as finding ways to gather money honey (my phrase, meaning to be like a bee that finds the sweetness in the middle of the flower) in the new green economy.
As an amateur student of psychology, I have often pondered why companies fail to innovate as Google continues to do. One obvious reason is that most management teams are nowhere near as intelligent as the management of Google. But beyond that, more important, is that somewhere along the way they have ceased to have fun, they have ceased to feel responsible for anyone or anything other than profits, they have given in to the mantra that the corporation's responsibility is only to maximize the bottom line.
It is all about having a creative and active imagination. Google continues to use imagination and continues to dip into real human experience and our human desires for the future, in order to develop new products and new strategies.
So the challenge for CEOs and Chairpersons everywhere is: get back in touch with your (business) inner person, think holistically, envision people everywhere as your brothers or sisters or parents, and you will find that work becomes more enjoyable, life is more tranquil, your impact on the planet becomes positive... and more than likely, your company finds a new, energetic, and loyal customer base.